Curator of the Life & Death Museum

by Punk



Lex kept everything from the day he died.

The blanket the paramedics gave him is in the truck Lex bought for Clark. Red and scratchy, it reminds him of public schools, of kindergarten and naptime on the rug, except Luthors don't sleep on the floor. When he lies awake at night remembering things he shouldn't remember, he thinks of that blanket.

The suit he was wearing is in a garment bag in the closet of his lab. It doesn't tell him much. Stiff, wrinkled and muddy, it would make his tailor flinch but it won't explain why Lex is still alive.

The driving gloves are in the drawer of his desk, shrunken and cracked, two deflated hands he holds when he's wondering why he's not dead. They smell like the river, and that's why he keeps them close, because Clark smelled like the river. Lex imagines, when he goes over it in his mind, that Clark tasted like the river too.

The wrecked car is in the garage, cold and unfathomable in its concrete tomb, and like a true believer travelling to pray before the fingerbone of a saint, Lex makes a regular pilgrimage to the basement to pray for enlightenment. The Porsche's roof is ripped open like the corner on a soft pack of cigarettes and there's a dent in the hood that should fit Clark Kent perfectly because no one else was on the bridge that day. The one time Lex brought Clark down there he'd wanted to force him against the car, match up that dent with the body that made it, but Clark's eyes were wide and hurt, and for the first time ever, Lex couldn't push.

The car is saying things that Lex can't entirely believe, but he's memorized the mesh figures of the computer simulation and the way Clark can't look him in the eye, and he knows one of them is lying.

Lex hasn't slept since he woke up on that riverbank, was reborn on that riverbank because he died in that river, and he's dwelling on this, fucking living in it, because he's seen the looks Clark gives him, the ones that tell him he's pushing too hard in all the wrong places, or not pushing enough in the right ones. It's one more sign of how far gone he is that Lex has lost the ability to tell the difference. He no longer knows if it's the boy's secrets he wants or just the boy, but he gets the feeling the boy is his secrets, which means when Lex gets one he'll have the other.

Lex wants everything and he'll have it because the gloves he was wearing the day he died don't fit anymore. They smell like the Kansas river that killed him, like the Kansas son that brought him back, and it has to mean something. Luthors don't die in shitty Kansas rivers. They sure as hell don't survive, because the one thing Lex knows for certain, the one thing he learned watching his mother die and die and die, is that Luthors don't come back.

But Lex is here, stuck in a house of stone that's seen the death of a century's worth of Luthors, stuck in a town where the high school football playoffs are front-page news and the farmer's market is populated by actual farmers. This can't be his life.

It's Saturday. He has reports to review and phone calls to return, but he's standing in the Lowell County fairgrounds, leaning against a row of metal bleachers, half-hidden behind them and being smothered by the too sweet smell of hay and trampled grass.

Clark is sitting twenty yards away in a cheap lawn chair at the Kents' booth, arms crossed over his chest and drinking something from a styrofoam cup. His parents left him there to watch the stand and Clark's sulking. He hasn't sold a single pumpkin all morning because anyone with any sense knows to avoid scowling teenagers, though Lex knows that nothing about Clark is that simple.

A teacher from the high school stops by to talk to Clark, and Clark drags out a reluctant smile in greeting. The smile turns into a wince when the teacher points at something on the table, and Clark shakes his head. The woman moves off down the aisle and Clark picks up a paperback and starts reading, cracking the spine and folding the cover back with casual malice. He's scowling again.

Lex loves him like this, irritated and beautifully oblivious. Clark, who can lie well enough to hide his secrets but never his lies. Eager and trusting and still young enough to sulk in public. Lex had never been that young, and despite Clark's stumbles and blushes, it's hard for Lex to believe it about Clark. Lex can see what the rest of Smallville can't, and Clark Kent is not the boy he pretends to be.

A redhead in a knitted hat and scarf steps up to the Kents' booth. She's brought Clark another styrofoam cup. Clark's nose wrinkles as he takes a sip from it and he flashes her a grin and a thank you. The girl hops up on the table, putting her hands in her coat pockets and swinging her legs. Lex is too far away to hear what they're saying, but Clark is obviously uncomfortable, twisting the paperback in his hands until the pages start coming unglued. The girl doesn't seem to notice. She's cute in a round, bookish sort of way but she doesn't know how to read Clark.

Lex tosses his coffee into a nearby trash can and doubles back around the row of stands. The girl sees him first and immediately forgets what she was saying. She stutters for a second then tucks her chin into her scarf and stops trying. Clark sits up and looks behind him for the source of the disruption.

"Lex!"

It's the first real smile Lex has seen from Clark today, and Lex finds himself smiling back before he can think about it. Clark has always had that effect on him.

"Clark."

Clark's smiles can last for hours, and it isn't until Clark shakes his head and stands that Lex remembers they have an audience.

"Lex, this is Allison. We're in history together," Clark says, obviously summing up their entire relationship with those words. Lex watches Allison deflate. Clark really has no idea.

"Hi." Allison musters a disappointed smile and slips off the table. "I'd--"

"ALLISON!"

"Oh god," she says, eyes suddenly huge behind her glasses. "I've gotta go."

She rushes off, scarf flapping, and Lex wonders what it's like to be embarrassed by your parents. The closest his father ever got was fucking Victoria.

"Allison's helping her mom hand out apple cider," Clark explains. "She brought me some."

"Of course she did," Lex says. Lex routinely turns himself inside out trying to find gifts he thinks Clark might accept. The apple cider's a clue, and Lex isn't above bribing Clark to visit by keeping the kitchen stocked with Mountain Dew and Pringles.

"She did," Clark insists, offering the cup to Lex as if he's worried Lex doesn't believe him.

Lex leans a hip on the table and takes the cider. It smells spicy and warm, like Smallville in autumn, and Lex hopes he'll be here next year to do this again. He's already nostalgic for this moment, and Luthors don't do nostalgia either, but fuck what Luthors do.

"Actually," and it's Clark's confessional voice, the one that never fails to send a jolt through Lex because what if Clark tells him now? But no. It's always got something to do with Chloe, or Lana, or in this case Allison.

"--hinting around about the Sadie Hawkins' Dance," Clark's saying.

Lex takes a sip of Clark's cider. The styrofoam lip has a few teethmarks in it and Lex runs his tongue over them. If he kissed Clark right now, he would taste like this.

"You do know the girls ask the boys for Sadie Hawkins'?" Lex says.

Sitting next to him on the table, Clark kicks him very gently, so gently it's more a rub than a kick. Lex stares down at Clark's sneakered foot. He's imagining things.

"Thanks, Lex, we may be a little backwards here, but the girls still ask the guys."

"Then what's the problem?"

"There's no problem. Allison was just testing things, doing a little, you know--" Clark is looking for a word. "Reconnaissance," he finishes.

"Ah, the 'Art of War' approach to romance," Lex says. "Hold out bait to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him."

Clark just seems amused. "Come on, Lex. If you like someone, and you're not sure they like you, what's wrong with doing a little fishing first?" Clark's smile becomes coy. "Some people don't even realize they're flirting."

This is the real Clark, the one kept hidden from common sight. The Clark without his parents or friends telling him how to behave. The Clark only Lex knows.

"You could always just ask," Lex says.

"Sure," Clark says, "if there's nothing to lose. But things can get complicated. Especially when there's a friendship involved."

Clark could be speaking about Lana or Chloe, but they're not here, and Clark's sitting so close his hip is pressing into Lex's thigh. Clark's jeans are a soft faded blue and Lex thinks about dragging his nails up the inseam until Clark's breath is as ragged as Lex's need.

"There's always something to lose," Lex says instead.

"Not always," Clark says, reaching for the cider that Lex is still holding.

Clark is wrong. There's always something to lose. Lex built his reputation on the fact it's always the other guy losing it.

"Really," Lex says. "Care to explain that?"

Taking a drink of cider, Clark peers at Lex over the rim of the cup, his eyes as green as the hedge maze in Lex's back garden. The mazes were supposed to keep evil spirits from tormenting the household. His must not be complicated enough.

Clark smiles and hands back the cider. "It doesn't have to be about loss. It can be about mutual gain."

Clark sounds like a risk consultant. He sounds like Lex, and Clark shouldn't be able to boil everything down to a financial metaphor. He shouldn't be able to speak Lex's language. Clark is the kind of kid that thinks "because" is a valid answer. Except he isn't.

Clark isn't anything he should be. Lex puts down the cider before he squeezes the cup so hard it breaks.

"What are you saying, Clark?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Clark blushes, adorably young again.

"You can tell me, Clark, whatever it is." Lex has Clark's secrets entombed in his garage and his decision to play guardian or inquisitor changes hourly.

Clark frowns, and Lex can feel this latest secret slipping away to join the others, just one more thing to think about when he lies awake at night.

"Excuse me, but, hello?"

Clark jumps at the interruption. Lex doesn't, but he'd been so involved with Clark that he hadn't noticed anyone walk up either.

Clark glances at Lex, then shoves his hands in his pockets and stands. "Hi."

Lex picks the cider up again and sits back to watch Clark deal with the Metropolis yuppie in the lambskin barn jacket and designer jeans.

"Can I help you?" Clark asks.

The yuppie is holding something that looks like a stunted pumpkin. He eyes it critically and asks, "Do you have anything with more blue? The kitchen's cobalt and chrome and she doesn't want orange."

Clark gives the yuppie the same kind of look the yuppie's giving the little pumpkin. "They don't really come in blue," Clark says. "Sorry."

"She doesn't want orange," the yuppie says to Lex.

"There's more in the basket," Clark offers with his usual self-effacing doubt, as if there might be a blue pumpkin in there that somehow escaped his notice.

The yuppie picks through the basket and finds a bumpy cream-colored gourd. "How much?"

"Three for a dollar."

The yuppie looks discouraged. He puts the gourd down and starts glancing around the market. Lex knows Smallville. Every produce stand in this field has the same gourds for the same price. This guy isn't going to find what he's looking for here.

Lex takes a sip of the cider. It's cold and too sweet, like something past its prime. He stands up and tosses it in the trash. The yuppie gives him a hopeful look.

Lex decides to take pity on him. "Fifty dollars for the whole basket. It'll look great in your kitchen."

The yuppie likes that, but tries to play it cool. Clark is staring at both of them like they're crazy.

"You're sure?"

"Handpicked organic gourds. Smallville's best," Lex says.

The yuppie peels off a fifty dollar bill and gives it to Lex, then picks up his basket of gourds in both arms and walks off.

Clark's mouth is open, tongue pressed against his front teeth as if he's going to start talking as soon as he knows what to say.

Lex takes pity on him, too. "I'll tell you a secret about the rich, Clark. The more it costs, the more they think it's worth."

Lex hands the fifty to Clark and turns to leave, but sees Clark's parents walking up the row arm in arm. He can spare one more minute for farm politics and small talk.

"Mom! Dad!" Clark shouts, waving the money in the air like it's a winning lottery ticket. "You won't believe this!"

"What is it, son?" At identifying the money in Clark's hand, Jonathan Kent immediately looks to Lex for an explanation.

Yes sir, Lex doesn't think of saying, I've had Clark appraised. His value is generally thought to be $49.95. You can keep the change.

"Lex got some guy to pay fifty bucks for those gourds," Clark says as he snaps the bill between his hands.

"He was from Metropolis," Lex says, digging his own grave. Jonathan Kent hates him and Lex likes how uncomplicated that is.

Jonathan scowls, but Martha puts a hand to her mouth to capture a startled laugh. "Lex! The basket wasn't worth that much."

She wants to protest, he can tell, but Martha Kent didn't always live in Smallville. She knows there's no difference between a hard-earned dollar and any other.

Lex shrugs. "This way he can tell his girlfriend he got the best produce money could buy."

"Hey, speaking of significant others," Clark says, snapping the fifty again and giving his father a meaningful look.

Jonathan plucks the money out of his son's hands and puts it in the pocket of his plaid shirt. "I've heard just about enough out of you, mister."

"Sock hop," Clark says, dodging a swat from his father.

"Clark, why don't you take a break and show Lex the rest of the market?" Martha suggests, staring up at her husband. "The Homespuns are set up in the grange hall with their quilts."

Clark is far more excited than seems normal. "Sure! Come on, Lex. I'll show you the grange."

Clark starts off and Lex glances over at the Kents. Martha is up on tiptoe, whispering in Jonathan's ear and walking her fingers up his chest. Jonathan grins and shakes his head, grabbing her hand before she reaches his shirt pocket and kissing her fingers.

Clark is waiting for him by a booth selling homemade jam.

"It's her birthday soon," Clark says. "Dad wants to buy her a new mixer, but I'm trying to get him to take her dancing."

Lex remembers he was trying to leave.

They walk through the market, Clark getting smiles from schoolmates and friends of his parents. Lex gets the usual stares.

"Lex, are you--" Clark stops. Starts again. "What's wrong?"

"What makes you think something is wrong?" Lex asks.

Clark gives him a frustrated look. "Do you want a list?"

They're at the edge of the market now, where the stalls stop and the empty fairgrounds begin. Clark leads them over to a wooden building that looks like an old one-room schoolhouse. The doors are open despite the morning chill and Lex can see several quilts on display. Clark circles around the building to the back, where a huge chestnut tree clings to the last of its leaves.

"What's wrong, Lex?"

Just a few months ago his problems could all be fixed with money or drugs, and he had plenty of both until Lionel sent him to Smallville and made him work for a living. These days his problems are more complicated and all center around Clark Kent and why he's not dead.

"Guess," Lex says.

Clark lowers his eyes. "Is it, what we were talking about earlier?"

"What were we talking about earlier, Clark?"

It's not even noon and Lex wants a drink. Something to wash the taste of apples out of his mouth. He can go home and pour himself a scotch, break a few things and call it a day.

"I know that you--" Clark says and then stops and squeezes his eyes shut.

Time for a confession from the heartland. Clark gets like this sometimes. Lex has learned to wait it out. It eases Clark's guilt and makes Lex seem sympathetic to the cause.

"I like you, Lex," Clark says. "I like you too."

Clark, eyes open now, big and vulnerable, and Lionel sent Lex to Smallville to learn responsibility and this couldn't have been what he meant. This goddamned town's almost killed him twice and now he's got Clark telling him they're in like with each other.

Clark takes a step forward. "Lex?"

Lex has it all planned. He's prepared several viable scenarios for gaining control over Clark, and the Smallville Farmer's Market isn't the time or place for any of them. Lex still hasn't decided between hostile takeover or horizontal merger, and Clark's confusing the issue with unsolicited input.

Lex smiles. "Yes, Clark, we like each other. I'm told that's what makes us friends."

And yes, it's petty, but Clark is seriously fucking up Lex's plans.

"Lex," Clark scolds, "you know that's not what I mean. I like you."

"I like you too, Clark."

This could drag on indefinitely, and might, because Lex is elated and annoyed and he wants to know how much teasing it'll take before Clark just gives up and goes graphic.

Or backs him up against the side of the grange and pins him there with a hand on either side of his head.

Lex raises his eyebrows. "Was it something I said?"

Clark glares at him from an inch away. "You are such a pain in the ass, Lex. You think you're smarter than everyone else around you, and you're always walking around with that arrogant little smirk like you're just...so great, and you're always fixing things and giving me stuff and being nice to my friends and you just, smell really good."

Clark's eyes go unfocused and he dips in to push his nose against Lex's neck, right under his jaw where his pulse is hammering because Lex always did have a thing for being pushed around but the backhanded compliment part is hot enough to qualify as a new kink.

"And I like you," Clark whispers, lips just barely brushing against Lex's skin.

"Okay," Lex says.

"Can I, can I kiss you?"

"Please," Lex says. It's not sarcastic and he's not even sure it was supposed to be.

Little nibbles on his bottom lip, the top sucked into Clark's mouth where Clark licks the thin groove of his scar over and over. Lex's head hits against the building behind him and Clark is quick to put a hand between Lex and the rough wood but doesn't stop kissing him.

Clark's hand is hot and a little sweaty and Lex imagines how it's going to feel pinching his nipples and sliding down into his pants and wrapping around his cock, and Lex has to be Clark's first because the boy is shiny and new, barely out of the box, but so good, so sweet.

Lex has one hand in Clark's hair and the other at his waist where his hips are making little thrusts against nothing. Lex pulls him closer so that they're pressed together, Lex's thigh between Clark's legs, and Clark gasps and breaks the kiss.

"Lex, wait--"

Lex isn't listening. Clark tastes like apple cider and feels like fifteen years of lies. Lex wants to know every one of them.

He pulls Clark back in for another kiss and Clark lets him. Lets Lex tug on his hair and suck on his tongue and shove one hand down between them and--

"Lex!"

Clark's shout is too loud for where they are. This is the absolute last thing Lex needs to be caught doing. He tries to kiss Clark silent, but Clark captures Lex's wayward hand and holds him off.

"When can you leave?" Lex asks.

Clark exhales a shaky laugh. "Jesus, Lex, you're like an avalanche."

Lex is an avalanche. He's a fucking natural disaster and he's going to devour everything in his path.

"I want you, Clark."

Clark blushes like a good boy. "I know. I just, don't have any idea what I'm doing."

Clark's got secrets that make Lex breathe hard and a mouth that brought him back from the dead, and Lex isn't feeling gracious today. He smiles.

"I'll teach you."

"Lex, you--" Clark looks like he wants to shake him. "It's more than that. I'm--"

The reason why Smallville didn't kill him, why Lex can't sleep at night, the answer to every question Lex can ask.

"I'm--"

"What are you, Clark?"

Clark swallows and Lex can feel the war in him, every lie and half-truth that mouth could tell.

"I'm not, I'm...I'm different," Clark stammers, desperate and unsure.

Whatever Clark is, his parents taught him to be afraid of it and Lex isn't going to change that with a few minutes behind a grange hall. Lex needs to be careful, because he doesn't want Clark to panic, but "different" makes him sound like a fucking snowflake.

"Different in what way?"

Clark lowers his head and mumbles something Lex isn't supposed to hear. "Every way."

It could just be the product of over-eager parenting. Lex has long lost count of the number of times he's been told he's different from the rest of the world. He's a Luthor and the normal rules don't apply, but even Lex couldn't survive being hit by a car and thrown into a river. Lionel might think he's teaching Lex to be indestructible, but Clark already is.

"What happened that day?" Lex asks.

"What day?" Clark says, as if he doesn't know, as if the day they met isn't burned into his memory, the first thing he remembers when he wakes up, the last thing he thinks of before he falls asleep, the day his world stopped and started again on a muddy Kansas riverbank.

"On the bridge," Lex says.

Clark jerks away from him, shaking free of Lex's hand.

"I hit you," Lex says. "We should both be dead."

Clark's eyes go dark and angry. "Don't, Lex."

"Tell me."

"No, I don't want to talk about it."

But Lex needs to know, desperation clawing at his chest like the asthma he'd left behind as a child. He'll never forgive himself for this. Luthors don't beg. Luthors rarely even ask, and Lex is making himself sick with this whining.

He puts his hands in his pockets and steps away from the building. "Goodbye, Clark."

"Lex." Clark reaches out for Lex's arm, and now Clark is the one being careful, like Lex is caught in a trap only Clark can see. "Lex, you're alive. It doesn't matter why."

Gentle hands pulling him in, touching his bare head like an apology. Lex wants answers. He doesn't want excuses. He doesn't want pity. He's going to leave, storm off in a swirl of black coat and Luthor indignation. Any moment now.

"You're safe," Clark says.

This kiss is slow and shy, not bruising like their first. Clark is saying something, something about safe and together. Lex doesn't believe in promises. He'd say as much except Clark is kissing him, holding Lex like he's afraid Lex might escape. Lex has his eyes closed and his cold nose pressed against Clark's warm cheek. He feels almost unbearably young.

"I saved you," Clark says.

Clark probably believes in promises, in cotton candy and first dates, all the sweet happy things that come with being so good. But that's a lie too, because Clark is kissing Lex in the back of the farmer's market and that's not something good boys do. Mouth to mouth like the day they met, the day Lex almost died, and then didn't.

"You're okay," Clark says.

Lex doesn't feel okay. He feels like he might cry and that is unacceptable. Clark is saying soft, comforting things against his temple and rubbing a hand down Lex's back. It has been a very long time since anyone cared for Lex like this.

Lex's hands are fisted in his pockets. He pulls them out and tries to unclench them but they're curled tight. He opens his eyes and looks up at Clark.

Clark seems to understand and pulls Lex in closer, wrapping his arms around him and resting his cheek on Lex's head. Clark smells like laundry detergent and Martha Kent's kitchen. Lex tucks his face into Clark's neck, breathes, and puts his arms around Clark's waist. His hands uncurl.

"You are okay, right?" Clark asks, uncertain once more and trying to catch Lex's eye. Lex can't blame him. Lex had been more composed when he was bleeding from the head and coughing up river water.

Lex laughs, because hell, why not. "I'm fine."

"I'm, do you, are you sure?" Clark says.

"Are you questioning my judgment?" Lex asks. Someone needs to, that much is clear. Lex feels about as reasonable as a shipwreck.

"Nooo," Clark shakes his head. "I would never do that."

Lex is being mocked, and hugged, and it's hard to say which is worse. He pulls back to glare at Clark. Clark, displaying absolutely no sense of self-preservation, smiles at him.

Lex accidentally smiles back. "Come home with me."

"I--" Clark suddenly looks behind him, like there might be spies. "I can't. I have to stay and help my parents."

"It takes three people to sell squash?"

"Lex," Clark says, rolling his eyes, "it's a family responsibility thing."

Luthors send their progeny out into the farmlands to process crap. Kents force their children into town to hawk produce. If this were a fairy tale, Clark would buy some magic beans and Lex would probably get eaten by a witch. The moral of the story being: Don't fuck with the status quo. Lex never did like fairy tales. The interesting people always died.

"How long do you have to stay?" Lex asks.

Clark makes the face that means he's doing math in his head. "At least until two."

Lex checks his watch. Three more hours of the Smallville Farmer's Market. Lex has had about as much of this as he can take. He'll leave the handmade potholders and boxes of free kittens to Clark.

"Why don't you stop by after you're done here," Lex says. "We can talk."

Clark beams at him. "Really?"

"I should be in my office, but I'm sure you'll find me if I'm not."

"Maybe my parents will let me go a little early," Clark says, eyes bright like he's hoping for an extra dessert.

Such a beautiful boy. Lex can't help himself. He kisses Clark's smile, runs his tongue along all those happy white teeth. Clark makes a hungry sound and tries to take over, but Lex pulls back before Clark can figure out how.

"You'd better get back before they come looking for you," Lex says, running a thumb over Clark's wet mouth.

"You--" Clark blinks. "You did that on purpose."

"Run along now," Lex says, and finds himself pressed against the grange again, pinned under Clark's entire body this time, Clark's breath warm against his ear.

"You should be, nicer. Lex," Clark whispers. "You don't want me...picking up bad habits."

"No?" Lex isn't going to complain. He might come in his pants, but he isn't going to complain.

"Or," Clark laughs, like he knows, "maybe you do."

Lex is fucked and can't even bring himself to care, not when Clark licks down Lex's neck, locks his mouth over Lex's jugular and sucks hard. The only reason Lex's head doesn't slam through the wall is because Clark's hand is already there. Concussions shouldn't be so sexy.

"Lex?"

Lex opens his eyes. Clark's grinning like he finally won at pool and Lex's hands are attached to his flannel shirt.

"Still want me to go?" Clark asks.

"No," Lex says, before he realizes it's a trick question. He smirks as cover. "I know better than to compete with your love of organic vegetables."

Clark shakes his head, still grinning. "I'll see you soon. Try to stay out of trouble."

Lex raises an eyebrow. "I have abso--"

Clark kisses him, fast and dizzy, and Lex is afraid he's smiling, the big stupid one he doesn't have much use for. Clark is going to be hell on his corporate poker face.

"Seriously," Clark says, before he turns and walks away, "don't do anything stupid."

It's way too late to worry about that now. Lex has had Clark Kent pressed up against him in the back of the Smallville fairgrounds and that's not even the start of what Lex wants to do with him. Lex wants him breaking the headboard and tearing holes in the mattress. None of it's a good idea, but that's not even an issue. Lex survived driving off a bridge. He can handle this.


The Underground: http://home.teleport.com/~punkm/index.html



If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Punk

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?



Back

Level Three Records Room